Embryonic and fetal myocardial growth is characterized by a dramatic increase in myocyte number, but whether the expansion of the myocyte compartment is dictated by activation and commitment of resident cardiac stem cells (CSCs), division of immature myocytes or both is currently unknown.Objective:
In this study, we tested whether prenatal cardiac development is controlled by activation and differentiation of CSCs and whether division of c-kit–positive CSCs in the mouse heart is triggered by spontaneous Ca2+ oscillations.Methods and Results:
We report that embryonic-fetal c-kit–positive CSCs are self-renewing, clonogenic and multipotent in vitro and in vivo. The growth and commitment of c-kit–positive CSCs is responsible for the generation of the myocyte progeny of the developing heart. The close correspondence between values computed by mathematical modeling and direct measurements of myocyte number at E9, E14, E19 and 1 day after birth strongly suggests that the organogenesis of the embryonic heart is dependent on a hierarchical model of cell differentiation regulated by resident CSCs. The growth promoting effects of c-kit–positive CSCs are triggered by spontaneous oscillations in intracellular Ca2+, mediated by IP3 receptor activation, which condition asymmetrical stem cell division and myocyte lineage specification.Conclusions:
Myocyte formation derived from CSC differentiation is the major determinant of cardiac growth during development. Division of c-kit–positive CSCs in the mouse is promoted by spontaneous Ca2+ spikes, which dictate the pattern of stem cell replication and the generation of a myocyte progeny at all phases of prenatal life and up to one day after birth.